Dr. Stark is Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy, Neurology and Social Work at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Stark has built an impressive research program examining environmental modifications and adaptation to support aging-in-place for community-dwelling older adults. She has focused her efforts on older adults vulnerable for institutional placement, particularly those with impairments due to chronic and degenerative conditions such as stroke and dementia. Dr. Stark’s thematically linked research program has direct implications for occupational therapy research and practice. What sets Dr. Stark’s research apart from most aging research is her study of the lived environment. Perhaps this is not innovative in the mind of an occupational therapy scientist; however, it is very innovative to scientists outside our discipline. In addition, Dr. Stark’s studies address a complex range of personal, environmental, and functional factors that contribute to falls in the home. Her more recent research examines the timing of falls in the progression of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, and the association between this timing and pre-identified neuroimaging correlates. Findings from this study are likely to improve early identification of candidates likely to benefit from intervention, with the intent that such intervention may contribute to slowed trajectories of decline.
Q & A
Identify three words that others have used to describe you.
My three favorite are: open-minded, gritty, altruistic.
How do you hope to make a difference in the world through research?
The informal motto of our lab has always been to “make the world a little better place.” Our motto is the touchstone we use to make decisions about new opportunities. It is my hope that through our research we will influence OT practice and health policy. We hope to provide environmental support for adults and older adults with disabilities so they can live safe and fulfilling lives with their families at home and in their communities. My approach is to develop home modification interventions, demonstrate their efficacy, demonstrate their implementation and effectiveness, and disseminate the information to occupational therapy practitioners.
What is one piece of advice you have for individuals considering a career in science and research?
Study something you are passionate about, find good and kind mentors (really listen to them), be tenacious.
Beside your own areas of inquiry, what is one research priority that you believe is important for the future of occupational science and occupational therapy?
Participation, as defined by the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health is “involvement in a life situation.” Understanding the participation restrictions people experience (functioning of a person as a member of society) is a fundamental core question of occupational therapy. The most important research priority for OT is operationalizing and measuring participation, intervening to improve participation outcomes and preventing participation restrictions (disability).
Describe the most important role that mentors played in your professional journey.
In addition to being my strong advocates, my kind and generous mentors have given me a roadmap to success in my research. They have provided me with clear goals and expectations, explicit directions to achieve the goals, and access to resources. These are the important (often unwritten) “how-to’s” for a successful research career. Having that roadmap available helped me set my course and stay true. Their “map” showed me where to find resources, where I should detour, what rocky roads lay ahead, and were I could rest. My mentors have given me a clear picture of where I could go and the costs and benefits of the journey.
Identify a favorite occupation that renews you outside of your work.
Time with my family, especially travel.
What has been the most surprising or rewarding aspects of a career in science and research?
The most rewarding aspect of my career are the relationships I have as a result of my work. I treasure the relationships I have forged with colleagues, research participants and trainees.
Stark, S, Keglovits, M, Arbesman, M, & Lieberman, D. (2017). Effect of home modiﬁcation interventions on the participation of community-dwelling adults with health conditions: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71, 7102290010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2017.018887
Stark, SL, Somerville, E, Keglovits, M, Smason, A, & Bigham, K. (2015). Clinical reasoning guideline for home modiﬁcation interventions. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69, 6902290030. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.5014/ajot.2015.014266
Stark, S, Keglovits, M, Somerville, E, Hu, YL, Conte, J, Yan, Y. Feasibility of a novel intervention to improve participation after stroke. (2017) British Journal of Occupational Therapy 1, 1–9
Stark, S. L, Somerville, EK, & Morris, JC. (2010). In-Home Occupational Performance Evaluation (I–HOPE). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 580–589. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2010.08065
Stark, SL, Roe, CM, Grant, EA, Hollingsworth, H, Benzinger, TL, Buckles, VD, Morris, JC. (2013) Preclinical Alzheimer disease and risk of falls. Neurology 81.